Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Best of the Bests for 2013

     Before 2014 gets going with a whoosh and a bang, I want to to reflect on the many traveling "bests" we enjoyed this year whether it was far afield in Montreal, along the Mississippi River, in a wintry New York City or closer to home in St Pete. Jerry and I know how fortunate we are to have the time, good health, and resources to travel the way we do and we make the most of it. But isn't just places or meals or sunset views that bring us happiness. Our travels are filled with opportunities to meet people, moments to reflect on history and culture, time to enjoy the bounty of nature, and space for reflection. It is the richness of experience that calls us to travel. 

     Here are a few "snapshots" of what we loved in our travels this past year.

Best Breakfast: We love a good breakfast to start the day whether at home or traveling. These three spots tied for honors in 2013: 
      Voula's Offshore Cafe, Seattle, WA
      Beauty's Lunchonette (since 1972), Montreal, QC
      Slim Goodies, New Orleans, LA

Best Birthday Celebration: Celebrating Canada Day (July 1) with thousands of Canadians in the Old Port of Montreal, complete with cake, bagpipers, and the swearing in of new Canadian citizens.

Best Scenic Drive: Highway 1 on the Oregon Coast on a misty day.

Best Animal Kiss: Giraffe at San Diego Safari Park (they have reeaally long tongues)

Best Oddball Museum: The Seattle Pinball Museum. For just $13 we played for hours on 50 well-maintained machines dating from the late 50s to present day. 

Best Farmers Market: Hands down:  Marche Jean Talon in Montreal. Jerry's favorite farmers market anywhere in the world. It's our first "pilgrimage" stop every time we arrive in Montreal. 

Best Pie Shop: Rustique Pie Kitchen in St. Henri neighborhood of Montreal. Delicious mini pies and all sorts of other goodies. My favorite? lemon pecan...maybe the s'more pie? 

Best Donuts: A tie between The Donut Den in Nashville and Randy's Donuts in Inglewood (right near  LAX airport). Both places have the fantastic maple donuts. Randy's rocks the french cruellers. Although Tim Horton's in Quebec has the fantastic french cruellers, too.  Does anyone still wonder why I'm not a size 8?

Best Foodie Adventure: A May weekend in Montreal with my mid-twenties son and his friend Louise. We ate and walked and ate some more. Restaurants? Au Pied de Cochon, Garde Manger, Toque!, Beauty's Luncheonette, the Creperie at Marche Jean Talon, and Rustique Pies.

Best Winter Meal: Any meal at Hearth in New York is a great meal, but our meal with our son on a cold day in the middle of winter was spectacular. Hearty food, delicate gnocchi, great service, and long talks over wine. Perfection. 

Best Oysters: For west coast oysters: Taylor Shellfish Farms Melrose Market in Seattle. For east coast oysters: Maestro S.V.P in Montreal. 

Best Opportunity to Eat Lots of Pie: Judging at the National Pie Championships in Orlando. Nothing quite like sharing a weekend with a couple hundred pie-loving judges and 400 contestants from all over the U.S. 

Best Way to Work off some of that Pie: Three afternoon/evenings at Walk Disney World: EPCOT, The Magic Kingdom, and the Animal Kingdom.

Best Ride on Public Transit: The Charles Street Trolley in New Orleans on a warm summer night.  Close second? Sausalito ferry on a sunny day (love that view of the Golden Gate bridge).

Best Meal in San Francisco: Spruce.  The meal was excellent, inventive without being unnecessarily over the top. Fresh, quality ingredients. And, a young man who we've known since he was 8 works in the kitchen. It was really something to look through the viewing window to see him do his stuff. It was just yesterday we were fishing on Lake Bonaparte and roasting marshmallows over a campfire. 

Best Bookstore: Elliot Bay Books on 10th Avenue in Seattle (Capitol Hill). I could move in and stay.

Best Bookstore Celebrating It's 80th Birthday: Haslam's New and Used Books, St Petersburg, FL. An integral part of the St Pete community for 80 years, they threw a great party! 

Best Luxury Hotel: The Hermitage in Nashville. Jerry's favorite anywhere, any year. An oasis in the middle of the wonderful madness of Nashville during the CMA Music Fest every June. Love the "cookie hour" in late afternoon.

Best Bed & Breakfast (with a talented piano playing owner): J.N. Stone House and Musicale, Natchez, MS. 

Best Lodging with a Twist: The Shack Up Inn, Clarksdale, MS: A motel made up of  resurrected share cropper cabins and cotton gins on the old Hopson Plantation located in the cradle of Delta blues music.

Best Fruit Stand: Dickey's Peaches in Musella, GA. Late May to early August is peach picking time and they always have fresh peaches for sale. We love to sit and watch the sorting and packing operations while wiping the peach juice from our chins. A third generation tradition in central Georgia.

Best BBQ on the road:   Blackstrap BBQ in Verdun, Montreal. 

Best BBQ close to home: Fred Fleming's on 4th Street North in St Pete, FL

Best Cemetery: Cote des Neiges, Montreal. Beautiful and monumental headstones and crypts that tell stories covering 150 years in the lives (and deaths) of Montrealers. 

Best Botanical Garden Display: Montreal Botanical Gardens with this year's astonishingly imaginative and artful Mosaiculture International Competition and the always delightful Butterflies Go Free Display.

Best Bridge: The art deco  bridge in Florence, Oregon (Hwy 101) 

Best Scenic Drive: Highway 101 in Oregon from Coos Bay to Lincoln City.

Best Piggy Bank: The big bronze pig, Rachel, at the Pike Place Market in Seattle. 

Best Place to Buy Flowers: Pike Place Market in August...dahlias are in full bloom. 

Best Concert:  Thursday Night (first of 4 nights) at the CMA Music Fest in Nashville. (Luke Bryan, Taylor Swift, Tim McGraw, Miranda Lambert, Zac Brown Band.

Best Concert While Freezing our Fannies Off: Alan Jackson at the Plant City Strawberry Festival (yes it was cold in Florida, in the 40s cold)

Best Snoball: Rootbeer flavored snoball from the guy in the French Market in New Orleans.

Best Snoball outside New Orleans: the Snoball shack in Treasure Island, FL 

Best High Tea: Queen Mary Tea Room in Seattle (ask to sit by the doves)

Best Baseball Game: Any day the Tampa Bay Rays are playing at home at the Tropicana Dome. But especially Opening Day when I got to help unfurl the ginormous American Flag on the field before the game. 

Best Lonely Lighthouse: The lighthouse standing guard over the Louisbourg Harbor in Cape Breton. Just us and a few seagulls and the Atlantic Ocean stretching out to Ireland.

Best Lobster Roll: Thirsty Whale in Bar Harbor, Maine. Had a great game of dominoes in between bites of oh so fresh from the seas lobster.

Best Pilates Session while Traveling: Simply Balanced in Nashville, TN. Our classes there have become a tradition helping to unkink our muscles after boot scootin' at the nightly concerts at the CMA Music Fest. 

Best Cruise: Holland America's autumn cruise from Boston to Montreal through the Canadian Maritimes on the Maasdam.

Best Fireworks: Montreal's Annual International Firework Competition held for two months each summer. Weekly fireworks set to music created by the best talent in the pyrotechnic world. 

Best Temporary Exhibit at a Museum: The Beatles retrospective at the Musee Pointe-a-Calliere in Montreal. 

Best Cat: The gray mouser that hung out on the porch of our sharecropper cabin at Shack Up Inn in Clarksdale, MS.

Best Author's Reading: A tie: Jeff Klinkenburg at the Inkwood Bookstore in Tampa and Khalid Housseini at Tampa Theatre.

Best College Campus for Birding:  Eckerd College in St Petersburg, FL. Roseate spoonbills, nesting osprey, white ibis, egrets, and herons. 

Best Bird Sighting of the Year: Sandhill Crane families with little chicks just east of Sarasota, FL. Close second: nesting owls in Fort de Soto Park, St Pete, FL.

Best Koi Pond: Marie Selby Gardens, Sarasota, FL

Best Banana Cream Pie (my husband's favorite): Yoder's Amish restaurant in Sarasota, FL (yes there are Amish in Florida too...they drive three wheeled bikes instead of horse drawn buggys.)

Best Cabins at a State Park: Spacious well maintained log cabins (made from cabbage palm trunks) built in the 30s by WPA work crews at Myaaka State Park in Florida (just east of Sarasota).

Best Sunset: The view across the Mississippi River from Natchez Under the Hill, MS. 

Best Place to Spot Gators: Myaaka State Park (especially on Lake Myaaka...take the boat ride).

Best Shelling: Sanibel Island, Fl

Best New Find in Tampa: The Oxford Exchange: bookstore, coffee/tea bar, gift store, and bistro. A place to pause and reflect in comfort.

Best Local Festival/Fair: The Plant City Strawberry Festival in Plant City, FL. I dream all year about their strawberry shortcake, chocolate dipped bacon, and concerts. 

Best Local Market: Mazzarro's Italian Market in St Petersburg. From cannoli to fresh bread, excellent meats to fine cheeses, house made pasta to salame, coffee bar to lunch counter, this is THE place to go.

Best Way to Start a New Year: Watching the first sunset of the year with picnic and champagne on the beach in Pass-a-Grille (St Pete Beach), Florida with our grown son. Watching he and his Dad walk along the surf line deep in conversation is great way to start a New Year.

Best Time with Our Grown Son: Our two week drive from So Cal to Seattle. 

Best Friday Night Date: Shuffleboard with my husband at the St Petersburg Shuffleboard Club celebrating 100 years of operation. (And shuffleboard isn't just for old folks anymore, lots of "younguns" on dates and families with kids...great fun).

Best Family Meal: Christmas Day Dinner at the Olympic Fairmont Hotel in Seattle. 

Best Time with Old Friends: This is a hard pick as we had many fun visits this year. But for sheer volume and amount of laughter, the winner this year would be my 40th high school reunion (El Rancho High School, Pico Rivera, CA).  There is something about discovering that we may have more wrinkles but we don't have less fun.  

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